Champions Cup: Bulls skipper Ruan Nortje bracing for ‘world-class’ Exeter Chiefs

Dylan Coetzee
Bulls captain Ruan Nortje looks on during a game. Champions Cup

Bulls skipper Ruan Nortje is delighted to have returned to winning ways against the Dragons last weekend and is hoping to continue their winning ways against Exeter Chiefs in the Champions Cup.

Going into last week’s game, the Bulls had lost three in a row, conceding more than 100 points in the process and were without their director of rugby Jake White who successfully underwent emergency abdominal surgery.

Handled the pressure

Nortje acknowledged the pressure the team was under and was proud of how his players adapted to the conditions to claim the relieving win.

“That game was massive for us,” Nortje said on Tuesday. “We were under a lot of pressure, me personally, as well as the team and the management. We are very happy with the character that we showed.

“It wasn’t perfect, but we were much better in that game, especially when it came to our discipline. That was a massive point for us. People who weren’t there won’t understand, but the wind made it very cagey. It was very tough conditions, especially in the first half when we were playing against the wind.

“It was massive for our confidence. We know how important that is when it comes to rugby. When you lose two or three in a row, then it feels like you are the worst team in the world. But an away win, especially, brings in so much confidence. We know how tough it is to win away from home.

“We were very happy with Friday’s win, especially taking us into these next three weeks. It’s going to be very tough for us. So that win was important to reassure the guys that they are good enough to be here.”

The second-row was unwilling to blame their errors on any outside factors and simply wants to get the basics right as his side gears up for a fascinating clash against Exeter at Loftus Versfeld this weekend.

“I wouldn’t put the error rate against Dragons on any outside factors like travel. It still wasn’t one of our best performances. We left a lot of opportunities out there that could have led to tries,” he said.

“When we got penalties, we gave the ball back to them, and that put us under pressure, instead of keeping them in their half. It’s a lot of small stuff like handling errors and turnovers. The ball was very slippery, but that’s no excuse.

“There’s a bit more focus going into Saturday to keep hold of the ball.”

Tough challenge

The skipper praised Exeter for their quality and history, expecting a massive game in Pretoria where discipline will be key.

“Exeter were the 2020 champions of both the Premiership and Champions Cup. We know what’s coming. It’s a world-class team. They want to outwork you, go through phase after phase and take you on up front. In all facets of the game, they want to kill you,” he added.

“So for us, it’s important to maintain our focus and keep the penalty count as low as possible. It’s going to be a physical battle, so we will have to step up in all departments.”

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